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Tom Scott: From Avondale to Avantdale

It’s a sunny Sunday morning in September, and Tom Scott, the Auckland rapper, songwriter, and DJ best known for the music he’s made in Homebrew, @Peace, and Average Rap Band is pushing a pram through a bustling outdoor market, with his baby son rugged up inside. “Look around you bruv, you can’t see any two people who look the same here,” he remarks to me, before stopping to chat with a stallholder. It’s true. Looking to the left, I see a middle-aged Polynesian gentleman selling old living room ornaments. He’s wearing Egyptian headdress and carries himself like a pharaoh, and maybe he is? On the right, a diverse variety of stallholders selling clothing, street food, and objects I can’t even identify.

This is Avondale, a colourful West Auckland suburb known for its cultural diversity, hearty Polynesian and Asian takeaways, and the infamous Avondale markets we’re wandering through. Tom grew up here. In some circles, Avondale’s colloquially referred to as Spidertown, a homage to a species of introduced (but harmless) Australian hunter spider you often see there. In recent years, with the redevelopment of the iconic Hollywood Cinema building, the suburb’s become a destination spot for evening entertainment as well.

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Avondale has changed a bit since Tom’s childhood years, but it hasn’t lost its community spirit. He’s wary about the gentrification he’s seeing set into the suburb, but also understands the area’s attraction. “The thing about Avondale is it’s a community that people love to live in,” Tom enthuses. Why wouldn’t you want to live here? When other people who genuinely love Avondale want to come here, I can’t really blame them. They love it for the same reasons I’ve loved it my whole life, but some people come here and don’t participate in the community, that’s not the one.” Last year, Tom moved back to Avondale to start a family with his partner after several years spent overseas living in Melbourne.    

tom scott avantdale bowling club Sniffers Blog

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Clad in worn-in blue jeans, a turquoise CCC pullover, and a red dad cap, Tom looks like he’s had some weight lifted off his shoulders. About a week before we meet up, a friend messages me in the group chat to let me know Tom’s twitter account has been suspended. While we’re wandering through the markets, I ask him about it. He laughs and gives me a response I wasn’t expecting. “I kept getting followed by these sexbots,” he says. “I would click on them to see who they were, and the bio would always say, ‘I want to have a sexy webcam chat with you,’ with a smiley face at the end. I started cracking up at the algorithms, and how these bots are just generated by something online, so I made their tagline my twitter bio. Twitter must have thought I was a bot (maybe I am?) because they suspended my account. They said I couldn’t get it back either.” He stops to chuckle again, before continuing. “I haven’t even said anything that controversial online in ages. I haven’t even said anything negative about anyone in ages. It’s kinda good though because now I’m internetless, can focus more on this music.”  

Since returning to Avondale, Tom’s made substantial headway on a project he’s been working towards on and off for several years now – Avantdale Bowling Club. Tom’s released music with different collaborators for close to a decade now. He’s also helped platform a whole generation of young creatives around the country through his Young, Gifted & Broke collective, but he hasn’t done anything like this before.

tom scott avantdale bowling club Sniffers Blog

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“I had to get back here to do this,” Tom continues. “This is where I’m from, these are my people, I mean, no disrespect to Australia, but I can’t speak for them. I gotta speak for this. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been writing differently, but I had to go away and come back to figure it out.” Flooded by memories, and buoyed by the community feeling, the songs came out differently.   

Let’s just briefly recap Tom’s musical history before we move forward: Homebrew was Tom and his childhood friend Lui Silk working with notorious Otahuhu producer Haz’ Beats. They took their cues from the funky sample-heavy sound of 90s rap, but added singalong choruses, and spoke to the realities of life on the margins of society. @Peace was Tom and another Lui (surname Tuiasau) – this time from Wellington – crafting a soul/psychedelic-rock infused sound where the songs sometimes stretched for over seven minutes, and space and quantum physics were the subject matter. When Tom relocated to Melbourne, Lui Tuisau moved with him, and they kept making music together as Average Rap Band, exploring an interest in boogie funk along the way. They had fun, but there was something Tom was looking for, and he just couldn’t find it in Australia.

Avantdale Bowling Club is the result of lessons learned from all of Tom’s previous artistic endeavors. He’s a rapper’s rapper and a full spectrum hip-hop fan. You’re just as likely to catch him listening to the new Open Mike Eagle album as you are the latest Young Thug or Lil Uzi Vert mixtape. Beyond that, he’s also a widescreen music fan. Dig through his record collection, and you’ll find krautrock, celestial jazz, cosmic synth, psychedelic funk, soul, ethio-jazz, Japanese boogie, the odd folk LP, you name it. This time, Tom teamed up with some of his favourite musicians and producers to create what he described to Radio New Zealand earlier in the year as, “a record that you picked up in the 70s except some guy’s rapping on it.” He’s been making demos in a home studio and tracking the final version at Red Bull Studios, or with his friend Vivek in Mount Roskill.

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After Tom purchases fruit and veggies for the week, we keep wandering through the market and run into Haz Beatz and rapper Tony TZ (from Team Dynamite) along the way. Afterwards, we walk through Avondale’s main strip. Tom points out a few spots and recounts some memories from his youth. When we get to his home, he cues up a few Avantdale Bowling Club demos, and we listen while his adorable baby son bounces on his knee, and their pet cat, Kitty Te Kanawa performs acrobatics tricks in the background.

Inside the songs, Tom’s performing lyrical acrobatics as well. He’s the kind of MC who can stack punchlines and load his verses with internal rhymes but can also execute the harmonic and tonal tricks utilized by the melody-led rappers who have dominated commercial rap music since the early 2010s. Avantdale Bowling Club sees him playing both sides of the field, rapping and singing against richly musical backdrops that aren’t afraid of getting gritty when they need to be. He’s dropping a single titled ‘Old Dogs’ soon with an accompanying video thanks to NZ On Air. We all know the joke about old dogs, but what they don’t tell you unless you read the fine print is some old dogs actually can learn new tricks. Just watch.  

 

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“This is where I went on my first date with a girl. Actually, it was me and my friends and a girl. I don’t know who was dating her. We were nine. We went to see Karate Kid 3. also when we were kids, there used to be an arcade in the bottom floor. I’m going to show my age here; we used to play shit like Shinobi and Pang there. I watched Back To The Future there back in the day with my friend’s family. It’s a beautiful building that people see value in now, so people have been doing events there recently. I did my first music video release party there for ‘Underneath The Shade.’ I wanted people to see the place, but maybe at the same time, I was low-key gentrifying it?”

Tom Scott Avantdale Bowling Club Sniffers Blog

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“You might recognise this place because it’s on the Homebrew album cover. I just wanted something that was iconic to where I grew up, and to me that place always was. Back in the day, if you got player of the day in rugby, you’d get a ten dollar voucher to spend there. One of my friends stole $50 from my dad’s wallet once, and I remember going there and buying a necklace with a little pake on it. That was the cool shit to have in Primary. I got in mad trouble because my dad (was a struggling musician) literally couldn’t pay the rent that week. That $50 was all he had. My friend was richer than me as well; his dad was a lawyer. But yeah. The Taro Plantation was where you went for fruit and veg and shit, back then it was Avondale owned and operated.”

Tom Scott Avantdale Bowling Club Sniffers Blog

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“The Avondale race course itself used to be the home field for our local rugby team, ‘Suburbs.’ This is going to sound so cliche, middle New Zealand, Kiwiburger but hey. One time we had a game right, and my grandparents had come out especially to watch. They vote for National, or maybe Winston [Peters]. Probably Winston [Peters]. Anyway. They’re old school, good honest people, and they came to watch my rugby game in Avondale. We were playing Ponsonby or some shit. Grant Fox’s son was on the team. So, classic tall-poppy New Zealand shit in full effect, I punched him in the face in a ruck and got sent off. It was the only game my Grandparents had some to see, and I spent it sitting in the sin bin. Also, there are tunnels under that racecourse from WWII that lead to Avondale College. There’s an old ghost story about a blue nurse who lives under those tunnels. We were all scared of her in intermediate. Would never wanna walk down the hall alone. Trust. But yeah, there’s some history under that place.”

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“What do you want me to tell you about the markets? I’ve been going there my whole life. I’ve got too many stories. These days I go there to get veggies and some stolen gardening equipment. I love the Avondale Markets man. We used to go there and get donuts. There used to be mad people selling mixtapes. Now it’s just people selling socks. We used to drink there on Sunday nights at the racecourse. People would be playing Canibus real loud out the back of the car.”

tom scott avantdale bowling club Sniffers Blog

Shot by Cam Neate

 

“The cool thing about the markets is when you go there; you see the whole community. I see people in the media who think Avondale is just a bunch of gangsters, or maybe want it to be that. Same shit they do to South Auckland. These places fall victim to the mainstream media narrative, or they become a tool of a rapper who wants to portray himself as someone tough. Both of these forces present these neighborhoods as ghettos, and they may be that in some places, but when you glamourise that aspect of it, you forget about the rest of the community. The thing about going to community markets is you see a bigger picture view of the actual community. You see the old lady who just came from church, and the people looking for something to help their veggies grow. You don’t just see the people who might be there on a Saturday night drinking Codys. I have a dream to sell orange juice and babies clothes there one day, and launder money through that, jokes! [laughs]”